Performance Management – Fluidity is the key


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It has taken some time to get traction, but 18 months since it was published, Vauhini Vara’s New Yorker article The Push Against Performance Reviews is reasonating in more organisations. As Vauhini says“..annual appraisals end up a source of anxiety and annoyance rather than a source of useful information.”. The annual performance review is not the way forward. We’ve seen this recently with some notable large organisations where their analysis has led to the realisation that the number of man hours in deriving and calibrating scores provided little return to an ever-changing business.

The challenge

Technology providers who automate paper processes that only support an annual performance appraisal are still rife. It’s not surprising since many organisations without automation initially want a mechanism to ensure people can update information in one place without paper forms or word documents. Very often, there is a challenge to simply know who is or who is not doing it. Often the dashboard data from the tool is used as a stick by which to hit employees with, in order to enforce compliance.

The worst-case scenario in implementing an ineffective process with ill-configured software is that it can cause a reduction in employee engagement, a break-down in communication between employee and manager and more employees leave the company whilst the organisation does not fully use its human resources to progress and grow the business.

Waking up

Gradually organisations are starting to understand that the quality of manager/employee conversations will truly drive up performance levels. With this focus, reality starts to set in that operationally, performance goals do not always start on 1st January and remain relevant for a complete year. Instead they may need adjustment in content or priority, they may need to be discontinued as the business changes, and further goals may need to be introduced part-way through the year.

Also the direct line manager may not be fully in control or aware of all the interactions their employees have at work in support of achieving objectives. Work undertaken within multi-functional projects and work-streams should command input from employees’ peers, direct reports and other senior managers to enable the direct supervisor to obtain a more holistic view of employee performance.

Without regular employee/manager conversations during the year about what is going well, what could be improved and the development required, the inevitable fear of the “sit down with your manager and review the year” looms. This results in all of these elements being doled out at one time annually, without any ability for the feedback to be absorbed and used to improve the rest of the year’s performance. Without a fluid process of requesting and getting ongoing feedback, nobody remembers the good work during the year and managers do not have the ability to help steer their employees to success throughout the year.

The change enablers

For many years, companies like Pilat have focussed on educating customers on this shift, looking to design automation around these processes, not just automating a paper process. There is technology which enables you to plan for the future with an ability to check-in on progress is proving much more useful to customers, with some looking back to see how far they’ve come by embracing this change in process. Implement a continuous feedback process where the reach can extend to peers, direct reports and customers to make the experience of employee-manager check-ins that much richer.

Let it flow

Don’t use forced work-flow or blockers in your chosen software which can become a huge administration nightmare to maintain. Instead, utilise a more open and free-flowing workflow process and identify those employees and managers who make the most use of this in the earlier stages and make them champions to drive the technology’s use, process and communicate the value to others who may be hesitant. Develop champions in the business and use their good experiences and benefits to influence others.

Adjustment over time and why companies like Pilat are different

Clearly, in some cases, customers may not be culturally ready for such a shift in its entirety, therefore when deploying technology to support your process, it is important to evolve your technology design as your process matures and culture changes. This is the key differentiator between many market providers compared with a Pilat solution. We know that your system will need to evolve as you mature and evolve in line with your processes and aligned with the capabilities of your organisation to change.


Whether you are ready or not, with high profile organisations such as Accenture, Deloitte and Adobe identifying the importance of fluidity and already adopting similar processes, can you afford not to?

Stuart Page
WHAT I DO: I help clients find the best software solutions to transform their companies, through automating Learning Management, Talent Management & HCM processes and content. Ensuring my clients set out on their business transformation as effectively and cost-efficiently as possible. I offer subject matter expertise, advice and hand-holding through their journey.WHO I WORK WITH: For over 20 years, helping companies in the high consequence sectors of life sciences, transportation, energy, financial services, government, manufacturing and healthcare


  1. You make some excellent points, particularly around tying automation solutions to employee feedback and performance assessment. Wise leadership gurus have for many years argued for the boss-subordinate relationship to be much more like a partnership than a military drill sergeant’s dominion over a new recruit in boot camp. This is particularly important since many of an employee’s influencers of success are people other than their immediate supervisor. In a brain-based economy work is often performed far from the watchful eye of a manager who may reside on a different shift or location.

    Peter Block, author of the best-selling book Stewardship (and many other great leadership books) advised thinking about the performance review process through the lens of your most important partnership–your marriage. How would it go if you had an annual performance review session with your spouse?!!

  2. This feels like something of a restatement of principles originally expressed 35 years ago in Blanchard and Johnson’s book, The One Minute Manager. They understood that individual employee experience and performance would benefit from brief, more kinetic check-ins, closer to a real-time assessment of role positives and negatives., than formal and highly stressful annual reviews. For those who are in supervisory positions, this approach also exemplified one difference between servant leadership and management.

    Being reminded of why this is valuable to the employee and the company is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

  3. Hi Michael, the underlying principles are the same. What I find fascinating is the ebb and flow of the same principles, which re-surface in different guises. Perhaps it is no more than organisations re-focussing their minds every once and a while to come back to what is, as you say, a 35 year old set of principles. Prior to its publication, the same key principles were no doubt used by great leaders with great effect who were around many years before.

  4. Hi Chip, the spouse angle is a very interesting one. I would certainly be nervous for my annual review, that’s for sure.


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